There are tons of threads on recommended books. Here's a bibliography I wrote up a while back for my students. It's a little dated, but...
(Prices were taken from Amazon.com; often,
third-party vendors have the item available at a
fraction of the prices listed below.)
Principles of Aikido by Mitsugi Saotome, lists at
$29.95 or $20.37.
A good beginners book explaining such things as
bowing and the traditional uniform as well as some
principles of technique amply illustrated with
clear photographs. Saotome also has a video
($29.99) available by the same name.
Aikido Exercises for Teaching and Training by C.
M. Shifflett, $19.95.
Another intro book for beginners. Down to earth
and familiar: excellent.
Saito Morihito, Nishio Shoji, Shioda Gozo
Any technical references by these three will be
good. Find Saito and Nishio at Aikido Journal
Shioda in bookstores or Amazon. His demonstrations
are fun, though (for those not on the receiving
end of them?)
Aikido In Training by R. Crane, K. Crane ($34.95)
A large hardback book with very clear pictures and
descriptions. The videos ($29.95) are also very
clear and well-presented.
Irimi: Iriminage, Za: Suwariwaza, Koshi:
Koshinage, Buki: Jo and Bokken by Hiroshi Ikeda
$40 each or $120 for a DVD of all four.
Ikeda was one of my first teachers, so I may be
biased but I find these clear and beautiful. See
demo clips on his website:
Aikido Friendship Demonstrations, Aikido Journal.
There have been several and they are inspiring:
Aiki Expo 2002 Demo on DVD ($39.95 for one or
$69.95 for both, 215 minutes total)
Some very dynamic interesting demonstrations by
Japanese and American (and Canadian) masters.
(Unfortunately, a couple of tedious demos, too.
But I find it worth the price.)
1st Aikido Friendship Demonstration on DVD
Again, very interesting demos by some of the
greatest practitioners ever.
50th Anniversary of Sokaku Takeda Demo and
39th All-Japan Daito-ryu Demo $39.95 each
Daito-ryu is the art which the founder of aikido
studied. It is the principal technical influence
of modern aikido. Both these demos are good, but I
think the 50th is a little meatier.
Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere: An Illustrated
Introduction by A. Westbrook, O. $22.41.
Avoid this. I only put it here because it's a
perennial favorite and many will recommend it. The
pictures are beautiful, but the text is mediocre and way dated.
Aikido Journal Website
Cheap at twice the cost and better quality content
than you'll find in most works on the subject.
You'll find several books' worth of materials in
the articles section as well as access to many
valuable online videos. There is also a discussion
board (no subscription necessary for this). The
premier aikido researcher in the west, Stanley
Pranin, runs the site.
Founder of Aikido by Kisshomaru Ueshiba (online
translation of a biography of the founder by his
Aikido Journal Website Subscription. Beginning at
Morihei Ueshiba, Founder Of Aikido, by Kanemoto
Sunadomari (online: Sunadomari was one of the
founder's closer, pre-war students.) Aikido
Journal Website Subscription. Beginning at
Aikido Masters ($24.95) available from Aikido
Interviews of many people who knew and trained
with the founder.
Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu: Conversations with
Daito-ryu Masters ($25.95)
Interviews of many people who knew and trained
with the founder's teacher.) Available from Aikido
Remembering O-Sensei: Living and Training with
Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido by SUSAN PERRY
(Editor) List Price: $15.37 .
One hundred sixty pages of anecdotes by many of
THE names in aikido, fun read.
Invincible Warrior by John Stevens, $13.97
Caveat emptor. Don't call it biography--it's folk
history or mythology or hagiography, but far too
breathless and biased to flatter as biography.
Still, it covers the founder's life.
Aikido & the Harmony of Nature by Mitsugi Saotome,
Without reservation, the finest rendering of
aikido philosophy in English. It's a disciplined
yet passionate attempt by one of his students to
make the infamously obtuse message of the founder
accessible to the average aikido player.
Touching the Absolute: Aikido vs. Religion and
Philosophy by Peter Goldsbury.
A rigorous no-nonsense examination of aikido by a
former Jesuit, philosophy professor (Hiroshima
University), and aikido 6 DAN. Aikido Journal
The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido by William
Gleason $13.97 . Difficult.
The author writes as if he's making notes to
himself with little apparent cognizance of his
audience. Nevertheless, this book examines the
underpinnings of aikido philosophy in depth. The
author is a 6 DAN under Saotome and teaches in
Massachusetts. I've been to one of his seminars
and it was excellent.
Dueling with O-sensei: Grappling with the Myth of
the Warrior Sage By Ellis Amdur. $20.00
This book is an unapologetically critical look at
the contradiction & warts of aikido & the
implication of aikido for our lives. Sine qua non
for the independent thinker. The author is a
counselor for kids at risk. I've been to one of
his seminars and it was excellent.
The Omoto Religion and Aikido by Yasuaki Deguchi
Ueshiba (online translation a series first run in
Japanese) Aikido Journal Website Subscription.
By the grandson of the founder's guru, Deguchi
Onisaburo. Some insights, but a better investment
The Socio-Political Background Of The 1921 And
1935 Omoto Suppressions In Japan, By Thomas Peter
$36, order number 7524107.)
The best material available on Omoto, the New
Religion in which the founder felt so at home.
Predictably enough, less charitable than Omoto's
own materials. It's an unpublished dissertation.
The Philosophy of Aikido by John Stevens $17.00,
The Essence of Aikido: Spiritual Teachings of
Morihei Ueshiba by Morihei Ueshiba, John Stevens,
Secrets of Aikido by John Stevens, $16.97 (All
Infuriatingly uncritical & fatuous. Nevertheless,
such is the dearth in English of materials on the
deeper aspects of aikido philosophy that these are
better than nothing.
Budo Training in Aikido by Morihei Ueshiba (the
founder of aikido ) $13.97.
Historical counterpoint to people like Stevens for
whom the founder was an unblemished avatar of
peace. This book has the founder waxing patriotic
in the militarist 30's --"This 'way' realizes the
genuiness of the Imperial Way.... The main purpose
[of Bu, then] is to enhance the prestige of the
Empire & to bring to light the whole nation."
Intelligent translator's notes.
The Japanese Milieu & Martial Culture
Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia (2
Volume Set) by Thomas A. Green, $175.00
‘Revisionist' writing to dispel many many myths of
the martial arts including the Shaolin Temple and
DO as a moral practice.
Famous Budoka of Japan by Yoshinori Kono
Ueshiba (online translation a series first run in
Japanese) Aikido Journal Website Subscription
The Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan series:
(Edited by Diane Skoss, $21.95 each or $60 for the
Volume One: Koryu Bujutsu
Volume Two: Sword & Spirit
Volume Three: Keiko Shokon
All excellent background to Japanese martial
Old School by Ellis Amdur, $20.
Inside info by a practitioner of Japan's classical
arts (and former aikido player). As with his
Dueling with Osensei above, an excellent book.
Sword & Brush, et al. by Dave Lowry
A practitioner of Yagyu-ryu Kenjutsu, Lowry is an
excellent writer with something to say. I've read
several of his books and all have been worthwhile.
Samurai On Wall Street: Miyamoto Musashi and the
Search for Success by G. Cameron Hurst III, InYo:
Journal of Alternative Perspectives Jan 200
Takes on the preoccupation with Musashi as a tonic
for all that ails the martial artist's soul.
Bushido or Bull? A Medieval Historian's
Perspective on the Imperial Army and the Japanese
Warrior Tradition by Karl F. Friday, InYo: Journal
of Alternative Perspectives Mar 2001
Challenges the identification of Bushido with the
From heiho to bugei: The emergence of the martial
arts in Tokugawa Japan by Hurst, G.C, The Journal
of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 2:4.
Traces the development of martial arts from the
battlefield to the dojo; challenges the smug
condescension of kata-based Budo vis a vis
Valorous Butchers: The Art of War during the
Golden Age of the Samurai, Karl Friday, in "Japan
Forum" 5.1 (1993).
On the brutality of real warfare and the humanity
The Myth of the Samurai by Harold Bolitho in Alan
Rix & Ross Mouer (eds.), Japan's Impact on the
World, pp. 2-9 (Japanese Studies Association of
Australia, 1984) P#000720.
Contra popular images of the samurai as selfless,
Bolitho demonstrates how enthusiastic they were to
acquire land. Serving lords could come later.
The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth-Century
Japanese Warfare by Thomas Conlan, Harvard
University. Occasional Papers in Japanese Studies.
2000-2001, p. 15-16.)
Conlan details the narcissism and self-interest of
samurai who would leave the battlefield after
taking one head, enough for reward, or just steal
some poor warrior's corpses. Conlan did his
dissertation on battle injury reports and came up
with some interesting revisions on the nature of
medieval battle as a result.
Classical Bujutsu (Martial Arts and Ways of Japan,
V. 1.) $5.94
Classical Budo: The Martial Arts & Ways of Japan
(Martial Arts & Ways of Japan Series , Vol 2)
Modern Bujutsu & Budo: The Martial Arts and Ways
of Japan (Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, Vol 3)
All by Donn F. Draeger
A scholarly treatment by a practitioner's
pratitioner. There are some errors, noted below,
but still a very worthwhile resource.
Ya Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting
An examination of Japanese society through the
lens of baseball, which is played as a martial art
there. Classic, insightful...and out of print. Get
it through inter-library loan, it's worth it.
Several myths and misconceptions about the martial
arts endure despite having been soundly refuted.
Here are several with the pertinent articles
Zen & Japanese Culture, Suzuki Daisetsu, $19.98
A, perhaps THE, classic apologia for Zen and it's
relationship to the martial arts.
The Zen of Nationalism (History of Relgions, 33:1,
1993.) and Whose Zen?: Zen Nationalism Revisited
by Robert Sharf
Sharf relentlessly depicts Suzuki as a poseur and
dilettante. In sum, Suzuki didn't do martial arts,
wasn't a Zen master (he studied Western concepts
of religion over twice as long as he did Zen), and
was a tireless apologist for the most nefarious of
Japan's military aggression abroad.
Zen at War ($59.99) and Zen War Stories ($52.61)
by Brian Victoria
Detailed exposure of the support Buddhism--widely
billed as a religion of peace--gave to war
efforts. Victoria is himself a Buddhist.
Zen in the Art of Archery ($8.00) by Eugen
Written by a Nazi professor of Philosophy, this
classic pronouncement on ‘Zen archery' has been
immensely influential in defining, Kyudo, Japanese
archery. It even ‘washed back' defining Kyudo for
The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery by Yamada
Shoji (Japanese Journal of Religious Studies,
Spring 2001, 28/1.
What they say about not watching sausages and law
made if you like them fits here. Yamada exposes
Herrigel as farce. In sum, Awa, Herrigel's vaunted
Zen master, didn't even practice Zen--or pretend
to. He was such an odd bird that even his students
criticized him, extraordinary in
hierarchy-conscious Japan. Also, Herrigel didn't
speak Japanese, Awa didn't speak German, and the
translator lied. I am not making this up.
Five Mountains: The Zen Monastic Institution in
Medieval Japan by Martin Collcut, $27.50
Shows that warrior interest in Zen was social,
political, and cultural...but not spiritual.
Though excellent, this book is of but peripheral
interest to martial artists and I don't recommend
Classical Budo: The Martial Arts & Ways of Japan
(Martial Arts & Ways of Japan Series , Vol 2) by
Donn Draeger, $19.95.
Draeger repeats the usual canard that Zen is the
martial arts and vice versa. Despite this, and
another error noted below, Draeger is actually an
excellent source. I highly recommend the whole
trilogy (the other two volumes are called
Classical Bujutsu and Modern Bujutsu and Budo.)
Japanese Swordsmanship by Gordon Warner and Donn
Eight years after Classical Budo, Draeger analyzes
the spiritual teachings of Takuan Soho, who wrote
an often-quoted tract on Zen and the martial arts,
into Zen and Taoism (and others) and attributing
the mind-discipline pertinent to martial arts to
Taoism. As this excellent book is very narrowly
concentrated on the sword, I don't recommend if
for aikidoists although I do recommend TACHIYOMI,
which is Japanese for ‘standing and reading', of
the chapters on history.
Classical Budo by Donn Draeger
Draeger famously set the distinction between ‘DO'
(as in juDO, for example) and ‘JUTSU' (as in
juJUTSU, for example) in concrete.
Religion and Spirituality: Japan by William
Bodiford in Martial Arts of the World, ed. by
Bodiford, a medeival Japan historian at UCLA,
savages the notion of the DO arising as a
spiritual compulsion of the samurai to perfect
themselves during the peace of Tokugawa, a
favorite teleogy of the martial ways. Indeed,
‘DO', he maintains, is shorthand for ‘Bushido,' a
newly resurrected concept introduced to the cannon
fodder of civilian Japan in the 20s as inspiration
for unquestioning obedience to the Emperor and an
invitation to suicidal zeal in every undertaking
on his behalf. Draeger, Bodiford maintains,
glossed over the impact of the ultranationalist
20s and 30s out of deference to teachers who had
fought in the Pacific War.
Honji Suijaku at work: religion, economics, and
ideology in pre-modern Japan by Fabio Rambelli in
Buddhas and Kami in Japan: Honji Suijaku as a
conbinatory paradigm, pp. 255-286.
While not mentioning martial arts in particular,
Rambelli traces the idea that secular
activities--poetry, carpentry, Noh (theater),
KEMARI (kickball)--can serve sacred purposes as
Ways (DO). This derives from the idea in the Lotus
Sutra--UPAYA or skillful means--that unenlightened
beings must be led to enlightenment in a manner
they can comprehend. (Honji Suijaku is a further
elaboration of this idea as it specifically
relates to the appropriation of local belief
systems--Kami worship--within the Buddhist
worldview and how this thinking seeped into
general consciousness from esoteric discourses.)
This being the case, there need not be any
historical distinction between DO and JUTSU as
enlightenment is immanent in any activity (thereby
rendering it DO whether it is carpentry of
Immovable Mind by Takuan Soho trans. by Sato
A very influential text describing Zen in terms of
swordsmanship. This is said to be a good
translation (Suzuki includes a translation in his
Zen and Japanese Culture, but according to
scholars, it is nearly unrecognizable as Takuan so
much has Suzuki interpreted it to reflect Zen.)
Flow and Sports by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and
Susan A. Johnson, $11.17
Takuan is THE word on the flow experience (MUSHIN)
in Budo, but Csikszentmihalyi and Johnson
describe, analyze, and offer strategies for
attaining it more clearly than did the monk.
Mushin, Morals, and Martial Arts: A Discussion of
Keenan's YogZicara Critique by Stewart McFarlane,
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1990.
Second in a four-part exchange between dueling
scholars concerning morality and Mushin. I
couldn't follow all of it, but I did extract
points of interest. The entire exchange, all in
The Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, is:
--Spontaneity in Western Martial Arts - A Yogacara
Critique of Mushin (No-Mind) by John P. KEENAN,
--Perspective: Mushin, Morals, and Martial Arts: A
Discussion of Keenan's YogZicara Critique by
Stewart McFarlane (above)
--The Mystique of Martial Arts:A Response to
Professor McFarlane by John P. Keenan,
--The Mystique of Martial Arts: A Reply to
Professor Keenan's Response by Stewart McFarlane,